Our hero is asleep in his bed. He wakes up – to hear a buzzing coming from the bathroom. There, framed in the doorway, is his ex-girlfriend. Masked and brandishing a chainsaw. She approaches. Our hero screams...
...only to wake up. It was all a dream. The buzzing was his alarm clock.
This scene, or variations upon it, turns up in drama all the time. While it was funny to begin with, it’s started getting really old. It’s becoming a cliché. I think it’s time to call a moratorium on this particular trope.
I’m not talking about all dream/fantasy sequences. I’m talking about the ones that at first appear to be genuinely continuing the narrative, before turning surreal (and often comically violent) only to be revealed to be all in the imagination of one of the characters.
It’s used incredibly well in Cold Feet and At Home With The Braithwaites, in High Fidelity, where John Cusack fantasises about smashing in Tim Robbins’ skull. But too often it feels like it’s a gimmick, a shock effect, rather than furthering the narrative or telling us stuff we don’t already know about the characters.
It’s cheating the audience; you need a good reason for doing that not to leave the audience feeling short-changed after having invested their time in two or three minutes of drama only for it all turn out not to have mattered.
Worst of all is the cynical use of these dream/fantasy sequences to fabricate 'must-watch' moments for the next-week trailer. Like in the otherwise sublime Pushing Daisies, where the next-week trailer will show the Piemaker finally kissing Chuck. You tune in, because you want to see the episode where that happens... only for it to turn out to be a dream/fantasy sequence.
That’s just prick teasing.